Learning Violin: Pencil Exercises for Bow-Hand Flexibility

September 20, 2017, 8:27 PM · How do you develop strength and flexibility in your bow hand? You can make surprising progress away from your bow, using a pencil and some basic exercises.

Being left-handed, I was always a little bit behind the curve with my right-hand technique. Because my right hand was not my dominant hand, it was both weaker and less adept. An early teacher showed me the typical finger exercises to do with the bow, but I didn't start getting good at them until I discovered the pencil.

Yes, I'd been holding that pencil forever in the left hand -- for writing purposes, but what if I held it in my right hand -- like a bow? It was much easier to do the finger exercises with a pencil, which lacks the weight and unwieldiness of the bow. I could do the exercises almost anywhere and any time -- while in class, procrastinating over work, talking on the phone, watching videos or television -- you name it. This allowed me to master the motions and develop coordination and even some strength. The habit of doing the exercises frequently with a pencil meant that when I was playing my violin in orchestra, during breaks my hand simply started doing finger scrunches with the real bow.

In the video above, I've described a number of bow exercises and concepts you can work on, away from the violin and bow, using a pencil. Something to note: much of the flexibility and strength you are developing in your fingers will ultimately be used passively, even though the exercises themselves are active.

I hope this gives you some helpful exercises and food for thought. Please feel free to add your own ideas, exercises and thoughts in the comments section below!

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September 21, 2017 at 08:03 PM · As a left-hand beginner, I have found the left hand work to be quick and easy but struggle to add any nuance to my bowing.

Thank you for these exercises, Laurie. From one left-handed violinist to another.

September 22, 2017 at 03:38 PM · I love this video and the explanation!

September 22, 2017 at 07:25 PM · When I was teaching I bought a supply of "violin pencils" at our local music store. I would give one to every beginning student, child or adult, violin or cello - I also bought some "cello pencils" for them.

Of course any wooden pencil would do, but I wanted to develop some "team spirit" too.

I taught "ready" cello students how to practice vibrato on the back of their right wrist-to-forearm with the right hand on their left shoulder.

Both of these did a lot of good. (I quit teaching about 10 years ago.)

September 22, 2017 at 09:44 PM · I'm so glad you reminded me of these exercises! My teacher showed them to me when I first started lessons four years ago, but I had forgotten them. I now have a pencil or straw with me at all times!

September 22, 2017 at 09:56 PM · I am at the very beginning of the long, long way and these exercises make it a little bit shorter. Thank you so much (I'm also a left-hander)/

September 23, 2017 at 04:01 AM · Anything that can help me with the violin is VERY welcome! Thank you for posting this video!

September 24, 2017 at 08:20 AM · A chopstick can play the same trick. ;)

September 24, 2017 at 01:05 PM · Never thought of using the pencil to practice more advanced bow techniques. Thank you!

Also, I wanted to add, it's not only left-handers that have trouble with right hand technique. Right hand technique is difficult for everyone. I'm a right-hander, as well as a teacher of over 90 students a year. It took me many years to finally gain good control of the bow, and students right and left-handed alike struggle with the bow. Nothing on the violin comes naturally.

September 26, 2017 at 03:19 AM · Very true, whichever is your dominant hand, it takes a lot of persistence to get to a point where it all feels "natural"!

September 26, 2017 at 03:11 PM · Thank you these ideas. I live in a dry climate, and sometimes it seems that no matter how much lotion I use, my hands are "slippery" and my thumb and pinkie don't want to cooperate. Any suggestions?

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